Monthly Archives: January 2010

India team for SA series

In the previous post, Mohan had speculated what the Indian team would like for the South Africa series, as a number of players were out due to injury. The selectors have named the team and this is what they have come up with  –

  • Virender Sehwag
  • Gautam Gambhir
  • M Vijay
  • S Badrinath
  • Sachin Tendulkar
  • VVS Laxman
  • MS Dhoni/Wriddhiman Saha
  • Harbhajan Singh
  • Zaheer Khan
  • Amit Mishra/Pragyan Ojha
  • Ishant Sharma/Sudeep Tyagi/Abhimanyu Mithun

On the surface, this may look OK, but there are a couple of things I just don’t get:

2 Wicketkeepers for a home series

I don’t see the point of having 2 wicket keepers for a home series – unless Dhoni’s back is really dodgy. Is it? In which case, he shouldn’t be picked in the team in the first place – it really is not in the team’s best long term interests to risk Dhoni.

It was really interesting to see DK being dropped from the team. If there were 2 ‘keepers picked in the team, I would have punted that the other would be Dinesh Karthik. But the reserve WK musical chair goes on, with Saha being given a chance. I am not sure he will get a game, though…

Bowler/Batsman ratio

It looks like Badrinath may finally make his debut. And although, people may argue that Kaif is the in-form player or that Raina should have been picked, I have no problem with picking Badri in the team. What irks me though is that we have 6 batsmen for the 6 spots in the team and 7 bowlers for the 4 bowling spots. It just doesn’t add up. We should have picked up either Raina, Rohit Sharma or even Kaif as a backup. With 2 regular batsmen out of the team, I don’t see India playing a 5 batsmen-5 bowler combination.

And, I don’t see Mithun getting a game ahead of Ishant Sharma or Sudeep Tyagi either. If he does, then that would be a grave injustice to Tyagi.

What is the point of picking someone in the team if they weren’t in serious contention? Unless of course, the selectors know something we don’t…


India Vs SA: Both teams in turmoil before First Test

For different reasons, both India and South Africa (RSA) — ranked #1 and #2 in the world respectively — are in some turmoil leading up to the First Test between these two countries starting 6 Feb.

Team India has a few wounded soldiers in her ranks while the RSA team management has suddenly imploded. After being summarily dismissed from the ICC Match Referee panel after his infamous contributions to the Sydney Monkeygate Test, Mike Procter has been sacked as Cheif Selector in his own country and along with him, his entire selection committee! The RSA coach, Mickey Arthur has stepped down too, citing difference in vision with Cricket South Africa (CSA). The selection panel now comprises Gerald Majola, CEO of CSA, Keppler Wessles and interim coach van Zyl.

Seems to me to be a case of too many chiefs and too few Indians!

Which is really a nice segueway to the problems the Indians are facing themselves.

Unlike the dramas in RSA which are of Pakistanesque proportions, the problems that Team India faces are all injury related. And frankly, since it is the on-field stuff that really matters, I feel that India are behind the eight-ball in this clash of two champion sides.

Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sree Santh are all on the injury list. Two of these are vital for the teams’ success against the second ranked team in the world. One of these injuries is a blessing in disguise, in my view, while the other is neither here nor there (but mostly there)!

Rahul Dravid is in sublime form and will be a vital cog in the armoury against a very good pace attack that includes Dale Steyn, Morkel and the fast improving Wayne Parnell. Similarly, in recent times, Laxman’s role in the spot that Sourav Ganguly vacated has been one that he has relished. He has been solid and has adapted well the the changing needs of that important role, which requires acceleration at times and a blocking-rebuilding at times of an upper-order crash.

If both Dravid and Laxman remain injured, my view is that RSA will start as favourites in the Test series.

Yuvraj Singh’s injury will bring a ray of hope to any of the many understudies who are waiting in the wings of Indian cricket. And there are plenty of those waiting to strut their wares in a middle order that seems almost impregnable. Players like M. Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Kaif, Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara would have picked up their bats as well as their prayer beads as soon as they heard of Yuvraj Singhs’ injury! A few of them may have to put their hands up and put on a show when the South Africans come to town.

I suspect that 2 middle-order positions may be up for grabs. In saying so, I assume that Yuvraj Singh is certainly out of the 1st Test and perhaps one of Dravid or Laxman may not play.

I feel that, given his recent probationary stints, M. Vijay must be a shoe-in for one of these spots. Logically, Badrinath ought to be the one that claims the other spot. He has spent many years in the wings. However, he might miss out on the basis of his recent poor showing in the Duleep Trophy and Mohammed Kaif’s recent strong (and timely) form — he has scored a double-century and a century last week in the ongoing Duleep Trophy.

Sreesanth’s injury is less of a concern to me. Bowlers like Sudeep Thyagi will fit the bill quite nicely. Moreover, I think India will prefer going with two pacemen and two spinners in the Tests against RSA.

Ideally, the team selection ought to wait until the end of the Board President’s XI game. However, the team for the 1st Test is being selected today. The Indian selectors should go for the following team, in my view:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid / M. Vijay
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman / Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh / S. Badrinath
M. S. Dhoni
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Pragyan Ojha / Mishra
Ishant Sharma / Sudeep Thyagi

— Mohan

Indian Domestic Scene — India-A Team

Let me say it at the start: Ranji Trophy sucks! Big time!

In fact, let me alter the statement: The whole Indian domestic scene needs a serious re-vamp that is based on cricketing logic and not on regional-voting political-considerations.

The fact that India is able to produce the sorts of cricketers that it does is perhaps despite the clutch of domestic tournaments and — in my view — not because of it.

The Ranji Trophy, the prime Inter-State tournament in India commenced on Nov 3 2009 and concluded on Jan 14 2010. In other words, the single most effective tournament, from which India gets to harvest the next generation of talent, lasts a bit over 2 months! Is that enough? More importantly, is that fair?

What’s more? The Ranji Trophy has 15 Teams in the Super League (split into 2 groups). In addition, the Ranji Plate League has 11 teams split into 2 groups?

A question to ponder first up: Does the BCCI not like even numbers? What’s wrong with a Super League that has 14 teams split in two even groups of 7? And what’s wrong with a Plate League with 12 teams split into two groups of 6 each?

Be that as it may, that is way too many teams to cram into a 2-month window of matches and still expect a good harvest of talent at the end of the pipeline. Contrast this with the Australian Domestic scene. The Sheffield Cup, which is the equivalent of the Ranji Trophy, has just 6 teams in it. The tournament commences in early-October (13 Oct 2009, in the 2009/10 season) and ends in late March (23 March 2010 in the 2009/10 season). The formula is: fewer teams, more space in between games and more opportunities for Australian national players to play a few domestic games even as the International season is under-way in Australia! Each of the 6 teams play each other at home and away. There is a sense of fairness and balance too in the crafting of a proper tournament. We then would not need neutral curators and other such artificial artefacts that the BCCI wants to implement!

No wonder Rahul Dravid talks of a longer gap between Ranji games which might lead to more interesting games and tighter finishes!

But then, as Anand Ramachandran writes funnily on Cricinfo’s Page-2 spoof, for the BCCI, the Ranji Trophy is perhaps an irritation that has to be tolerated — much like a pimple on ones’ backside. The BCCI would perhaps much rather close down the Ranji Trophy and concentrate its efforts and its money tills on the lucrative and glitzy IPL. After all, one can only glitz up the Ranjis so much!

Furthermore, there are way too many domestic tournaments that need to be squeezed into the calendar. Soak this in. Challengers, Corporate Cup, Irani Trophy, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy.

Hello! What’s going on? Is anyone even aware of the plethora of meaningless competitions that are on offer? There is a mess that needs cleaning up.

But rather than fix the whole mess, I’d like to start by suggesting a few small improvements to the Ranji Trophy which might make it more interesting for the player, the fan and the organisers with the outcome being a richer harvest of the talent pipeline.

  • Split the current 26 teams into 4 Divisions: Div-A (5 teams), Div-B (6 teams), Div-C (7 teams) and Div-D (8 teams).
  • Each team in each Division play each other at Home and Away.
  • Top two teams from Div-A play for the Ranji Finals A.
  • A4, A5, B1 and B2 play semi-finals to decide Ranji Finals B. Two losers get relegated and the two finalists stay in Division-A for next season.
  • B5, B6, C1 and C2 play semi-finals to decide Ranji Finals C. Two losers get relegated and the two finalists stay in Division-B for next season.
  • C6, C7, D1 and D2 play semi-finals to decide Ranji Finals D. The two finalists stay in Division-C for next season.
  • Teams in Div-A have more break between games and teams in Div-D have less of a gap between games and that would be “fair game”, I’d think.

But despite all the cramped schedules and the many dull draws, the Ranji Season did produce some excitement and some comfort for the Team India fan. There is certainly a good crop of young talent that is coming through the ranks.

I would certainly like to see some of the following young and talented players go as part of an India-A-Team to England, Australia and South Africa sometime this year.

M. Vijay / Ajinkya Rahane / Abhinav Mukund
Cheteshwar Pujara / Suresh Raina
Rohit Sharma / Mithun Manhas
Virat Kohli / Manish Pandey
S. Badrinath (capt)
Wriddhiman Saha / Puneet Bisht (wk)
Irfan Pathan / Ravindra Jadeja
Ashok Dinda / Abhimanyu Mithun
Sudeep Tyagi / R. P. Singh / Munaf Patel
Iqbal Abdulla / Aushik Srinivas
Piyush Chawla / R Ashwin

Most of the above had a good Ranji season and are knocking on the doors of national selection. It would be good to see them have a taste of conditions elsewhere before they play there in senior colours. Although players like Virat Kohli or Suresh Raina or Badrinath have played in Australia (in the Emerging Players Cup in 2009, for example), it is only reinforcement as well as repeated exposure that will remove fear of alien conditions from their minds.

— Mohan

India v Bangladesh Test 1 Day 3

Day 3 of the first test between Bangladesh and India saw the most overs being bowled so far in a day in this test – and yet they fell shot of the required quota for the day by about 20 – that gives an indication of how much cricket has been played in these three days.

Bangladesh, like India didn’t capitalize on the good start they got to lose their way early to be 98 for 6, well before lunch. But as it happened in the only test that India failed to win against Bangladesh, India let them off the hook. In that other match, their No. 8 scored 79 – in this match, he scored 69. The names of the players may be different, but those runs have been significant contributions. The first one from Mortaza saved the test for Bangladesh, and it remains to be seen if the performance from Mahmudullah, is enough to save this test.

As I had predicted, India managed to take the lead – but by just one run 🙂 India then finished the day on 122/1 with an overall lead of 123. Sehwag again failed to capitalise on the good start, getting out for 45. Mishra came out as night watchmen and remained not out on 24 with Gambhir on 46 at close.

The plan for India would be to add another 200 odd  runs and declaring early to give their bowlers sufficient time to bowl out Bangladesh in the remaining overs…which could get sufficiently decreased owing to the weather and bad light.


India v Bangladesh, Test 1 Day 2

With India struggling at 218/3 at the end of day 1, Bangladesh was hoping for a solid performance to consolidate its position on day 2. For a while, it seemed like they were getting there, but 3 wickets in the space of eleven balls did more damage to their chances than what the score card shows.

I know it is still too early to say, but having knocked Bangladesh back to 59/3, India certainly seem to have the edge in this test now. Unless Ashraful and/or Shakib Al Hasan do something extra “ordinary” tomorrow, I think India may even end up taking a first innings lead. 

Earlier in the day, Tendulkar made 29 of the 30 runs India added, to notch up his 44th Test hundred (and his 89th international hundred). .. Boy, what a record that is. He may not get to a hundred hundreds in international cricket before he retires, but I don’t think he is done yet 🙂

With only half the number of overs bowled in two days of play and so many truncated sessions, it is hard to do a session by session score card – but one thing is for certain, if we made a SBS scorecard, the clear winner would be none other than the weather 😦


India v Bangladesh, Test 1 Day 1

Flashback to May, 2007. India had just come out of the World Cup debacle and were in a state of shock. After the effigy burnings, backlash and public scrutiny, the team that eventually landed in Bangladesh was probably not in the right state of mind. Before the team was selected, there were even calls for seniors (including Tendulkar to be dropped), and when the team was named, the likes of Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh had been left out. Even though India were playing against the lowest ranked team in the world, some people believed that India were vulnerable and could even be defeated. 

Coming back to January 2010 – things couldn’t be more different for India. With its new No. 1 ranking, India is a strong and confident side. And, although Sehwag sounded arrogant when he claimed that Bangladesh were an ordinary side, a lot of people knew he was probably right – there was no way India was going to lose.

But what happened at the end of day 1? India were struggling at 213/8, and quite relieved  to take the bad light when it was offered to them. Not what you would have expected when India had raced away to 60-odd runs by lunch in just 13 overs.

Although India are currently ranked No. 1 in the world, they still aren’t the best team in the world – which I think they can become. For that, they need to start playing good cricket consistently, and a way to get out of tight situations…like the one they are facing today.

The match is far from over, and India can still recover – it promises to be an interesting Test…and I thought I’d never say that when India plays Bangladesh.


Ranji Finals…

The Ranji Finals between Mumbai and Karnataka was a close run thing this year with Mumbai pipping Karnataka to the post with a whisker. The Ranji Trophy deserved a close and well-fought final and that’s what we got.

The big news is that Manish Pandey has arrived. After a lack-lustre beginning to his career where he bombed in the last U19 World Cup (which India won with Virat Kohli as captain) and after an ordinary initial Ranji season for Karnataka, he bootstrapped his career with a scintillating IPL-2 and a Ranji season this year.

At 882 runs this season, he tops the run-scorers’ list in the Ranji’s.

I think that it is a matter of time before he breaks into the Indian Test and ODI team. I know it is a big call and with Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara in the queue ahead of him for a Team India Test cap, it is perhaps even a foolish call to make. But I’d like to watch this lad grow in stature. I feel he has what it takes.

But what about this catch that Pandey took to get Abhishek Nayar out in the Mumbai 2nd innings. I don’t think I have seen a better catch on a cricket field!

— Mohan

L. Balaji and a Leggie Chuck?

As India prepares to take on Sri Lanka in a tri-series final in Bangladesh, I stumbled on this extremely odd piece of cricket news that former India seamer, Laxmipathy Balaji has been called to a action-rectifying rehabilitation camp at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) Bangalore from January 18 to 24, 2010.

He is one of 35 bowlers — Yes! Thirty five bowlers — with a suspect action that have been asked to report for the camp. I looked and looked again to see if the names some well-known International cricketers who do chuck were included.

But apparently this set of invitations is just for Indian players!

While I laud the BCCI for trying to put in some measures to rectify actions early, I was quite shocked to see the name Abhinav Mukund feature in the list!

Left handed opening batsman, Abhinav Mukund, bowls leg spin occasionally. He has been used reasonably consistently as a partnership breaker in this seasons’ Ranji Trophy and met with some success.

To the best of my knowledge, Abhinav does not bowl off spin at all.

A leg-spinner can chuck? How?

The full list of “invitees” to the BCCI “rehabilitation camp” at the NCA HQ at Bangalore are:

Siddharth Trivedi, Amit Singh, Jayesh Makla, Rujul Bhatt, Anupam Patel, Dipesh Bhandari, Sanket Tandel (all Gujarat), G. V. S. Prasad (Andhra), S. Sriram (Goa), K. P. Appanna and Manish Pandey (Karnataka), H. Khadiwale (Maharashtra), Rajesh Pawar and Salim Veragi (Baroda), Yogesh Nagar (Delhi), Sarandeep Singh (Himachal Pradesh), Kulamani Parida (Railways), Rahul Kanwat (Rajasthan), L. Balaji and A. Mukund (Tamil Nadu), Shivkant Shukla, Parvinder Singh and Mohammad Kaif (Uttar Pradesh), Arlen Konwar (Assam), Tejashvi Yadav (Jharkhand), Basant Mohanty (Orissa), Jayanta Debnath, Debbhakta Jamatia and Abhijit Dey (Tripura), Murtaza Hussain, Vikrant Yelliugatti and Aniket Redkar (Mumbai), Vishal Joshi (Saurashtra), Sandeep Singh and Harshal Shitoot (Vidarbha).

The list of “invitees” to the camp does include some batsmen like Mohammed Kaif and Manish Pandey. So, in my most generous mood, I can only assume that Abhinav Mukund has been invited to the camp as a batsman. If not, I hope the NCA is being run by someone who knows his/her cricket!

— Mohan

A conversation with Peter Roebuck

Srinivasan of the ‘Indian Voice’ in Melbourne organises a dinner around the Boxing Day Test every year featuring Peter Roebuck.

The venue is always at Indian restaurants, with names featuring ‘Punjabi’ ‘Dhaba’ ‘Masala’ ‘Curry’ and ‘takeaway’ in the usual permutations. The chef cum proprietor is routinely guilty 0f the interior decor, with a propensity for sequinned works featuring bearded grandees a-loll against bolsters receiving intoxicants from surahi bearing maidens with impossibly imposing implants. What looks very like a lungi on the wall with Taj Mahals all over it may well be my philistine eye not recognising a wall hanging when I see one.

None of this should take away from the menu which rarely deviates from Naan, dal makhani, mixed veg curry, papad and rice. For those of a certain persuasion, there a couple of other curries featuring body parts of young quadrupeds and bipeds.

The Roebuck dinner is an event I rarely miss, affording as it does the opportunity to fill up to the back teeth at the buffet for 10 bucks,  listen to one of the most engaging writers and fluent talkers about the game.

Sadly this time around the numbers were’nt there at all. Maybe something to do with the fact that it was Pakistan and not India playing Oz? Sanjay Manjrekar is perhaps right after all. Maybe most Indians are just interested in Indian cricket.

Nevertheless it made for a relatively committed gathering that welcomed Peter at about half past seven. The usual format was for everyone to hoe into the buffet, at the conclusion of which Srini would introduce Peter, who would then hold forth for a bit, followed by questions from the floor. Srini would then wind up with a present of a kurta (Peter’s favourite garment whilst in India) and invitations to contribute to Peter’s favourite charity.

Peter is one, one suspects, who will talk cricket through the night if given the chance. Here then, are a few excerpts.

On his castigation of Chris Gayle before the Windies toured and subsequent approbation.

Most readers will recall that Peter had blasted Gayle for his stance apropos Test Cricket prior to landing on these shores.

Peter said he consistently states his mind with the facts at hand. If that meant that he changed his views and opinions from time to time, so be it. So long as the process was consistent, the end results could well change. Certainly, once Gayle demonstrated some responsible leadership in Oz, Peter did not see his commitment to Tests as an issue any more.

On Umar Akmal blasting Peter Siddle for 19 in one over.

High praise from Peter who was reminded of a young Sachin who hit perfectly good deliveries breathtakingly well. The crucial thing that separated the ‘Nadamaadum Deivam’ (my phrase, not Peter’s) from Umar was the latter’s ‘youthful impetuosity’ that caused him to throw away his wicket after he reached 51. What struck him about Sachin back then, reminisced Peter was that, even at 19, he had a ‘calm centre’ within him that ensured that he was hitting the ball amazingly well on its merits, not just with youthful abandon.

On the ever so slight improvement in the provincial nature of cricket writing in the Australian press.

This was a topic that delved into areas outside of cricket such as an evolving national image, an improved understanding of the wider world and apropos cricket, soul searching post Kumble 2007. That said, what I understood him to mean was that the hacks are, person for person, more deserving of credit than is given them. For the most part, they tend to be aligned to either the Fairfax or the News Ltd stables, each of which caters to a certain demographic. Articles are then written to suit.

This reminded me of Suketu Mehta’s take on Bollywood film directors. ‘None of them are remotely the idiots that their movies would lead you to believe’. Or words to that effect.

On India being on top of the Test Totem pole.

Contrary to the jingoism and triumphalism that might be expected, we the discerning audience took the view that India’s reign would be short lived. Largely because the fab four were on the way out, our bowling still does not inspire, the much beloved BCCI still operates as a fiefdom dispensing benevolence and largesse etc etc. Without disagreeing, he also pointed out that India could not have reached the top without Australia, SAF and to an extent England stumbling periodically. In defence of the BCCI he pointed out the fact that state level cricketers could now make a decent living from the game. ‘Fathers who, fifteen years ago were doing all they could to dissuade their boys are now pushing them with the same force into the game!’

One eyed Indians.

He didn’t hold back in chiding Indians for seeing conspiracies and bloc politics whenever anything went against India or Bucknor did us in again. A pretty thin skinned and one eyed mob we were, said he. Hard to disagree, especially if you share my opinion that we conveniently lose sight of when we benefit , as we did with SK Bansal in that 2001 epic in Kolkata.

As an aside, has anyone heard of Bansal after that game?

And so it went, till Srini had to reluctantly call stumps. As we trooped out into the warm night though, we were all in agreement that we had NOT got our hard earned’s worth.

For, there was no ‘gulab jamun’ to finish off.


Decision Review System – Modern version of match fixing!

I am sticking my neck out and making a bold statement that the Decision review system is a disaster. It is a serious threat to fair test cricket. It is, and I dare say, cricket fraternity’s blind faith on an untested and unproven vaccine to poor umpiring. At this point in time, I would put greater trust on the worst financial risk model in the market. As an analyst, I am well aware that all predictive models are as good as their identification and  treatment of sources of uncertainty. To somehow imagine that this model takes into account factors including but not limited to bounce, speed, weather conditions, soil conditions, moisture etc. and predict vertical and horizontal outcomes of a ball bowled without some degree of certainty is very difficult for me to say the least. The horrendous decision to overturn and fabulous call by Billy Doctrove against Marcus North at the current Sydney test is a case in point. The fact that the Aussies are playing like school kids despite that is besides the fact.

I welcome discussions on this topic. In particular, comments by anyone who has a detailed understanding of the DRS model would be appreciated. I hold my views until I have been convinced that the model is trustworthy. The analyst and doubter in me casts serious doubts on the credibility and, more importantly, the motive behind the use of this system. I would also be interested in finding out more on the creators, their relationships with certain cricket boards/tv channels etc. and their commercial interests.

– Srikanth